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The Inevitability
of Communism (8)


Since, to Hook, Das Kapital is only a critique of political economy, so also the Marxian theory of value, to Hook, can indicate nothing more than is already known. He writes ( page 220 ) : "Yet neither the labor theory of value nor any other theory of value can predict anything which is not already known in advance. War and crisis, centralization and unemployment, were already quite familiar phenomena when Marx formulated the theory of value." It is a mistake to assume, Hook goes on to say, that one can predict anything specific with the labor theory of value. Now, after all, capitalism is still far from having collapsed, and yet the Marxian law of accumulation, on the basis of value, is the law of collapse of the capitalist system. That is already shown in the first volume of Capital, as "the general law of capitalist accumulation." However, this law of collapse does not operate "purely" but, like any other law, is more or less modified in reality. These modifications are set forth in more detail in the third volume, especially in the section dealing with the law of the falling rate of profit. Just as the law of gravity operates in reality only in a modified form, so also the law of capitalist collapse, which is nothing more than capitalist accumulation on the basis of exchange value. When Hook takes away from the Marxian law of value its predictive power, he has completely renounced Marx. And when he further states that "one may accept the Marxist evolutionary metaphysic and not forthwith be committed to its theory of the social revolution ( page 251 )," the statement is false for the very reason that, in the first place, Marxism has no evolutionary metaphysics, secondly, we cannot really be committed to a theory of social revolution without practising it. If Liebknecht in the scientific sense was a worse Marxist than Hilferding ( page 249 ), and yet in practice a better one, as Hook asserts, the comparison is still quite uncalled for. For Marx himself "was no Marxist" but he identified Marxism with the acting proletariat, which can act Marxistically and not otherwise. Marxism is simply not an ideology, but the practice of the class struggle ! The revolution is made by the masses who may know nothing about Marx : the revolution makes them Marxist !

As regards theory, however, it is impossible to reject the economic doctrine of Marx and at the same time expect to be a Marxist in all other matters, as the reverse also is impossible. With the rejection of the predictive power of the theory of value, that is, the rejection of the Marxian theory of crisis and collapse, Hook, even though against his will, rejects Marxism not partially but completely. The rejection of the real content of the theory of value, by Hook, explains at the same time the idealistic content of his dialectic, as the latter in turn is the explanation of the first.

Hook's weakness in the economic theory is illustrated in the very fact that only twenty-two pages of his book are devoted to the Marxian economics. In this connection it is also interesting to refer to the passage in which he deals with the difference between Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin.

The dispute between these two turned on the question of the realization of surplus value. Regarding Luxemburg, Hook writes ( page 61 ) :

"In her Akkumulation des Kapitals she contended that, with the exhaustion of the home market, capitalism must stride from one colonial country to another and that capitalism could only survive so long as such countries were available. As soon as the world would be partitioned among the imperialist powers and industrialized, the international revolution would of necessity break out, since capitalism cannot expand its productive forces and continue the process of accumulation indefinitely in any relatively isolated commodity-producing society, no matter how large."

Lenin, he goes on to state, denied that capitalism would ever collapse in any such mechanical fashion. And he then quotes with great approval from a speech of Lenin's dating from 1920 a passage which has no connection whatever with the debate about the realization of surplus value in non-capitalistic countries -- a debate which had been waged eight years previously. Capitalism needs a non-capitalist market : that had been the position of Rosa Luxemburg. Lenin maintained that it creates its own market. But both held to the basic thought of Das Kapital, namely, that the capitalist mode of production has an absolute economic limit. While Luxemburg looked for this limit within the sphere of circulation, Lenin already glimpsed it correctly in the sphere of production. In so doing both of them, in the knowledge that the process of accumulation on the basis of value is the process of collapse of capitalism, which is identical with the revolution, attacked the whole reformist position, for which Hilferding in a speech as late as 1927 said : "I have always rejected any theory of economic collapse. The overthrow of the capitalist system will not come about from any inner laws of this system, but must be the conscious act of the will of the working class."

If in the heat of debate that phrase of Lenin's which has been quoted ad nauseam that, "no position exists for capitalism from which there is absolutely no way out," possessed a certain political justification in a determinate situation, namely the "death crisis epidemic" arising in 1920, it nevertheless lends no comfort to reformism, which had always denied to the theory of value any predictive power and which was pleased to reject the theory of economic collapse. The whole economic-theoretical work of Lenin, which only consciously repeated Marx, is opposed to such assertion. To Lenin, the law of value is the law of collapse.

One is surprised, however, when Hook, after having "with Lenin" rejected Rosa Luxemburg's "mechanical" theory of collapse presents, in his own economic exposition, nothing but a repetition of Luxemburg's position. After outlining the theories of value and surplus value, of the capital relation in production, the fall of the rate of profit with the increase in the productivity of labor, the value-price relation, accumulation and crisis, he then sums up ( pp.204-209 ) :

"With the increase in the organic composition of capital the rate of profit falls even when the rate of exploitation, or surplus value, remains the same. The desire to sustain the rate of profit leads to improvement of the plant and the increase in the intensity and productivity of labor. As a result ever larger and larger stocks of commodities are thrown on the market. The workers cannot consume these goods since the purchasing power of their wages is necessarily less than the values of the commodities they have produced. The capitalists cannot consume these goods because ( 1 ) they and their immediate retainers have use for only a part of the immediate wealth produced, and ( 2 ) the value of the remainder must first be turned into money before it can again be invested. Unless production is to suffer permanent breakdown, an outlet must be found for the surplus of supplied commodities .... Since the limits to which the home market may be stretched are given by the purchasing power of wages . . . resort must be had to export."

He then further shows how in the course of development the importing countries themselves become exporting countries. At this point Hook has reached the limit set by Luxemburg; but while she came out with it, Hook does not, for of course he rejects with Lenin the "mechanical nature" of this idea of collapse. Instead, he merely repeats once more his starting point ( page 207 ) :

"This process is accompanied by periodic crises of over-production. They become progressively worse both in local industries and in industry as a whole. The social relations under which production is carried on, and which make it impossible for wage-workers to buy back at any given moment what they have produced, leads to a heavier investment of capital in industries which turn out production goods than in industries which produce consumption goods. This disproportion between investment in production goods and investment in consumption goods is permanent under capitalism. But since finished production goods must ultimately make their way into plants which manufacture consumption goods, the quantities of commodities thrown on the market, and for which no purchaser can be found, mounts still higher. At the time the crisis breaks, and in the period immediately preceding it, the wage-worker may be earning more and consuming more than usual. It is not, therefore, underconsumption of what the worker needs which causes the crisis, . . . but his underconsumption in relation to what he produces. Consequently, an increase in the absolute standard of living under capitalism, . . . would not eliminate the possibility of crises."

All the factors involved in the Luxemburg interpretation are here repeated in a more primitive form. The difference is that Hook doesn't share with her the conclusion she drew. We have here in Hook the disproportion between the two great departments of social production, the overproduction of commodities, the impossibility of realizing surplus value in the absence of fresh markets in non-capitalist countries. In short, as with Luxemburg, so with Hook, the capitalist world stifles under its superfluity of surplus value which cannot be turned into money ( realized ). The only difference between the two formulations is that where Luxemburg speaks of collapse, with Hook the process stops at crisis. But all of these crisis factors have their points of support in the process of circulation, and hence are not imbedded in the essence of capitalism.

We know, however, that Marx developed his theory of accumulation first upon the basis of the total capital; in this, no circulation problems exist, there being neither an overproduction nor an absolute or even relative "underconsumption," and where the workers constantly receive the value of their labor power. Even in this "pure" capitalism pictured by Marx, though all the crisis factors given by Hook are absent, Marx still proves that even such an ideal capitalism must collapse, and on no other ground than that of the contradiction contained in value production. When Engels, in the passage Hook quotes from the Anti-Dühring ( page 213 ), says that "in the value form of the commodity there is already concealed in embryo the whole form of capitalist production, the opposition between capital and labor, the industrial reserve army, the crisis," it goes without saying that the grounds of crisis are to be sought in the sphere of production, not of circulation. Hook himself says ( page 213 ) :

"Similarly, in the interest of analysis, he ( Marx ) was compelled to assume, at the outset, that the exchange of commodities took place under a system of "pure" capitalism in which there were no vestiges of feudal privilege and no beginnings of monopoly; that the whole commercial world could be regarded as one nation; that the capitalist mode of production dominates every industry; that supply and demand were constantly in equilibrium : that having abstracted from the incommensurable use-values of commodities, the only relevant and measurable quality left to determine the values at which commodities were exchanged, was the amount of socially necessary labor-power spent upon them."

Why was it, may we ask, that Marx first demonstrated the working of the law of value upon a "pure" capitalism ? We find an excellent answer in the posthumous papers of Lenin : " By proceeding from the concrete to the abstract, thought . . . provided it is correct . . . does not depart from truth but comes closer to it. The abstraction of matter, of natural law, the abstraction of value, etc . . . . in short, all scientific abstractions mirror nature more profoundly, more completely. From vivid contemplation to abstract thinking and from this to practice ... that is the dialectical road to the knowledge of truth."

The law of value revealed what concrete reality, the superficial world of appearance concealed; the fact that the capitalist system, as through the necessity of a natural law, must collapse. Marx first abstracted all the secondary contradictions of that system in order to show the effect exercised by the law of value as an "inner law" of capitalism, in order later, with the modifications introduced by concrete reality, to point out the purely temporary character of the tendencies arising from the modifications and working against the collapse-tendencies which confirm the law of value as the determining factor in the last instance. The law of value explains the fall of the rate of profit-an index of the relative fall of the mass of-profit. It is only for a time that the growth of the profit mass can compensate the fall of the rate of profit. If the mass of profit first fell relatively to the total capital and to the demands of further accumulation, at a later stage it falls absolutely.

It is not what Hook adduces as a crisis factor which can be regarded as the principal one; on the contrary, the matter must be understood exactly the other way round. Hook may quote Marx to support his contention that the cause of crisis is the contradiction between production and consumption. For as a matter of fact, according to Marx, "the final basis of all real crises is the poverty and limited consumption of the masses as against the urge of capitalist production so to develop the productive forces as if their only limit were the absolute consuming capacity of society." . . . "But there could be nothing more senseless," writes Lenin ( The Marxian Theory of Realization ), "than to deduce from this passage of Capital that Marx had contested the impossibility of realizing surplus value in capitalist society or had explained crisis as being the result of insufficient consumption." An overproduction or underconsumption ( which finally amounts to the same thing ) is necessarily bound up with the physical form of production and consumption. But in capitalist society the material character of production and consumption plays no part which could explain prosperity or crisis. However much the thing may offend "logic," capital does in fact accumulate for the sake of accumulation. Material production, as well as consumption, is left in capitalism to the individuals; the social character of their labors and of their consumption is not directly regulated by society but indirectly by way of the market. Capital does not produce things, but ( exchange ) values. But even though it is not, on the basis of value production, in a position to adapt its production and consumption to the social needs, these real needs must nevertheless be taken into account if the population is not to perish. If the market is no longer in a position adequately to satisfy these needs, then production for the market, value production, will be set aside by the revolution, in order to make room for a form of production which is not socially regulated by the roundabout way of the market but has a directly social character and can therefore be planned and is capable of being directed according to the needs of human beings. From the standpoint of use value, the contradiction between production and consumption in capitalist society is insanity, but such a standpoint does not hold for capitalist production. From the standpoint of value, this contradiction is the secret of capitalist advance, and the greater this contradiction the better does capital develop. But for this very reason, the accumulation of this contradiction must finally arrive at a point which leads to its abolition, since the real conditions of life and production are after all stronger than objectified social relations. So that the final basis of all real crises is still the limitation of mass consumption as against the urge for so developing the forces of production as if the consuming capacity were unlimited. In capitalist value production, the appropriation of surplus value is limited by the possibility of exploitation. The workers' consumption cannot be reduced to zero; and it is only for that reason that there is an absolute economic limit, for value production can only tend nearer and nearer to this zero point. The capitalist contradictions arise from the contradiction between use values and exchange value. This contradiction turns the accumulation of capital into accumulation of impoverishment. If capital develops on the value side, it also at the same time, and in like measure, destroys its own basis, in that it continually diminishes the shares of their own products which fall to the producers. This share cannot absolutely be done away with, since the natural instinct of self-preservation on the part of the masses is stronger than a social relation, and also because capital can be capital only so long as it exploits workers and dead workers cannot be exploited.

To take for a moment the impossible position adopted by Hook, one could much rather say that the crisis comes about because this relative and later absolute "underconsumption" on the part of the workers is not great enough, because it cannot sufficiently increase, because too little "underconsumption" is present. It is not the underconsumption, whether relative or absolute, which produces unemployment; but the insufficient underconsumption, or the unsatisfactory mass of profit, the impossibility of increasing the exploitation in the necessary proportion, the loss of prospects for further profitable accumulation, produces crisis and unemployment.

It is not because too much surplus value is present that it cannot be turned into money; but because it does not suffice to meet the needs of further accumulation on the basis of profit production it is not reinvested. Because too little capital was produced, it can no longer function as capital and we speak of the over-accumulation of capital. So long as the mass of surplus value could be increased correspondingly to suffice for further accumulation, we proceeded from crisis to crisis, interrupted by periods of prosperity. So long as it was possible at the danger points of the crisis to increase the appropriation of surplus value through the sharpening of exploitation and through the expansion process, it was possible to overcome the crisis only to have it reproduced on a higher plane of development. At the point where the tendencies working against collapse are eliminated, or have lost their effectiveness as opposed to the needs of accumulation, the law of collapse asserts itself. The Marxian abstraction of "pure" capitalism, the law of value, turn out to be inner laws of capitalist reality; laws which in the last instance determine its necessary development. [3]


[3] It would lead us too far at present to develop more fully the Marxian theory of accumulation and collapse. This subject will be treated at length elsewhere.

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